Typhoon Mangkhut

Well, we’ve just endured a super typhoon!

Mangkhut (or Mangosteen in English) has come and gone, leaving behind a trail of debris and broken trees. We had been expecting it for a few days and there was a sense of mild panic as people cleaned supermarkets out of water and instant noodles. It was almost a case of the boy who cried typhoon. Everyone got ready for Typhoon Seahorse (2016) which was little more than a puff of wind. The same happened in 2017 with another oddly-named gust. This time was a little different.

Calm before the storm

There was a slight feeling of tension as the streets became noticeably quiet in the hours leading up to Mangkhut. This unease was not helped by reports of damage in Guam and the Philippines. It was hot, a stuffy humidity that was exhausting and sweat-inducing. Saturday seemed to be okay, even though many events and lessons were cancelled across the city.

Sunday morning

There was a light breeze as I headed to my 9am lesson. Thirty minutes later and 12kms across town the wind had picked up. Leaves flew, trees swayed, and lobby doors were near impossible to open. By 10am I’d learned that some of my Sunday lessons had been postponed. The roads had fewer cars and council workers had felled the creaky trees in anticipation of a Mangkhut onslaught.

image1-1

12pm (home)

It was time to watch a downloaded game of international rugby. The All Blacks, the world’s greatest rugby team, had hosted the South African Springboks in Wellington – New Zealand’s windiest city. Oh, the irony. It had been calm in Wellington on Saturday night and we were getting a year’s supply of wind within twelve hours.

I paused at the twenty minutes mark – the All Blacks were teaching the Springboks (or Boks for short) a lesson on free running rugby. They always did this these days.

It was time to observe the wind and rain howling around outside our 35th floor apartment. Windows in our compound’s newer, vacant apartment blocks raucously opened and slammed shut as the wind dashed from left to right and left again.

image2-1
You can’t actually hear the wind but man was it blowing!

News reports kept us updated as to the typhoon’s expected arrival in the city. The typhoon could have been Queen Elizabeth II for all the media attention it was getting. My daughters were enjoying running about the apartment as the cleaner (who braved atrocious weather to get here) worked quickly to finish her tasks and return home.

More rugby – the All Blacks were now trailing the Boks as the game began to mirror the typhoon outside.

3pm

Father-in-law (Martin) was in the kitchen preparing dinner early. Mangkhut was due at our place in two hours. While the typhoon would feast on trees, cars, street lights, and building materials, we’d have a dinner to eat and he’d be safely home.

Reports from Hong Kong and Shenzhen spoke of widespread damage and flooding. My oft-paused rugby game had recommenced and was by now a real nail-biter. Players were getting battered in brutal tackles, there was blood, guts, and passion as the Boks held out the All Blacks attack.

 

image3
The good guys always win

 

The rugby was paused yet again to allow for the preparation of water and recharging of mobile phones in case of power and water cuts.

4pm

It has taken four hours to get to this point. There are only two minutes remaining in the rugby (games are 80 minutes in length – this one had been paused five times). A  South African player had been yellow carded for naughty behaviour. That meant one less player on the field for the Boks and a massive advantage for New Zealand. We’d got this game won.

Smash – something had fallen over on the balcony. Think of a choir of energetic whistlers and this might sound like the wind outside. Someone’s t-shirt had just flown past our balcony. Socks and undies littered the garden below.

Darn it – despite 100 opportunities the All Blacks have managed to lose the game. That’s the first time this year.

5pm (Sounds of sirens)

Martin had taken longer than usual to finish cooking. Now he wanted to be dropped home. He had to be kidding right? This was the typhoon’s zenith. Windspeeds were now over 100kms per hour. No way. Things were flying through the air. Big things. There was a tree floating in the swimming pool downstairs. We’d be toast if we ventured out in this weather. I refused. And the noise…

 

image2-3
A great time for board games

 

8pm 

The wind had abated somewhat. There were cars on the highway but it still rained heavily. Martin suggested that this be a good time to head home. The road was littered with rubbish from all walks of life. A showroom carpet was bunched up in the middle of the road. A bus sat abandoned at a lonely stop. Branches, plastic, wood, and bicycle parts lay strewn along the route. Trees died thoughtful deaths – blocking two car lanes rather than three, falling in ways that still allowed motorists to pass.

We probably shouldn’t have been out there. The rain bucketed down with force and the wind was violent in exposed places. The road was flooded near his house. My large car wobbled like jelly when it waited at the lights. A truck drove at speed into a large puddle thus saturating a group of people huddled by the roadside. Poor sods.

Aftermath

image1
Covered parking

 

image2
Branching out: wood that be a tree?

 

 

image2-2.jpeg
Uprooted and in the dark

 

And that was as bad as it got for us here in Guangzhou. Other places weren’t quite so lucky. Hong Kong took a hammering as did other southern cities. Thousands were evacuated from their homes. The Philippines copped most of it. Much of our city looked worse for wear on Monday morning but by Tuesday (as I wrote this) things were a little cleaner.

 

image3-1
The answer my friend is blowing in the wind…

 

Some of you will have experienced much worse (tropical cyclones, earthquakes, tornadoes, snowstorms etc.) but it is with relief that we didn’t have to endure such calamities. It would have made for exciting blog reading had we been in perilous danger but we’ll take safety over Hollywood-style drama any day.

Many thanks for reading. Please like and/or comment below.

 

 

Occupational Safety – Wave Goodbye to those Fingers!

Earmuffs anyone?  How about goggles?  Would you like a pair of gloves and workboots?

Why let these little annoyances get in the way of a good time?  Just walk past any urban construction site or home improvement-related store and you’ll see it. The free (reckless disregard?) approach to workplace safety. Johnny Qu and Rex Li will be dismantling, welding, nailing and sawing anything from metal to wood to plastic etcetera. Corrosive chemicals might be added to the mix too.

“She’ll be right” demonstrates a typical Kiwi approach to life. It’s not always the most sensible. “One nail will do mate” (when two or three would guarantee quality). This, however, is nothing compared to the stuff we see going on in southern China. Let’s take a look at what must get affected by such laissez-faire behaviour.

The Ears

I’ve never seen a pair of earmuffs on a construction worker. Large construction sites boast about worker safety but it’s the truth. Despite the crash of construction and bash of demolition, most workers wander about the site with ears fully exposed. Jackhammers are some of the loudest tools around, only outdone by a jet engine, gunshot, rocket, or firecracker!  Yet jackhammer operators and bystanders allow their ears to soak up all the available noise. I’ve included a decibel chart to put the jackhammer’s dulcet tones into  a wider perspective:

common-decibel-levels-chart

Wait, do you mean that exposure to 120 decibels for 10 hours a day might actually cause long-term hearing impairment?  Yikes.

Note that “normal” conversation sits at 60 db on this chart. The Cantonese I know rarely ever have “normal” conversations. The chart could be adjusted to reflect local conditions – 110 dbs might be more accurate. Babies are loud – Cantonese are often louder.

The Eyes

Sparks will fly baby when I set my eyes on you…..   It sounds like a hard rock song from the 1980s. It might very well be the soundtrack to a movie about welders. No safety goggles in sight (excuse the pun) as their eyes sit mere inches from blindness. One wants to go up and educate them about the importance of workplace safety but this would be akin to a conversation between the English and Americans on the rules of cricket.

industry metal fire radio
Xiaomin was delighted with his new safety equipment

Fingers

In many countries, butchers and fishery workers use mesh gloves to protect against knife slippages. No such luck here. It brings new meaning to the term fish fingers.

Feet

Do you really think a pair of sneakers (or leather slip ons) is going to protect your toes from the weight of a concrete slab?  Workers (or better yet, construction managers) – buy yourselves some steel-capped boots!  Now that’s foot for thought, isn’t it?

Head

Possibly the safest part of the human body. Or is it? Most construction workers get a pretty yellow or red helmet to wear on site. The robustness of these helmets is unknown to the casual observer such as me. The worrying thing is that I’ve seen similar looking helmets in toy shops.

group of persons wearing yellow safety helmet during daytime
Cue soundtrack music….

Official Stats?

This gets tricky with the whole truth, lies, and damn statistics deal. A workplace law was passed in 2002 focusing on certain, risky industries but there were (like any new law) gaping holes that were highlighted by several large-scale workplace catastrophes. A 2014 amendment has brought the death rate down (if the stats are actually accurate) and foreign-owned companies are under pressure to comply. It’s bad publicity if you lose half your staff in one morning.

Life in Lifts.com reports only what it sees.  Large-scale building sites were not visited during the writing of this blog. That said, several small-scale operations were observed in action.  Jackhammer teams sans earmuffs, relaxed carpenters with circular saws, sparkly sidewalk welders, the wet market pork hackers, maskless maintenance men carrying buckets of strong-smelling (liquid) chemicals…..

Thank you again for your time – they’re not making any more of it so your support is much appreciated. Leave a comment or a like below!

 

 

 

Yikes! Creepy Cameras and Nosy Parkers.

IMG_6952

 

It was late at night. Danger was in the air…

No, not really. Just an average evening in Block Six’s lobby. No-one was around – just me. I’d endured an hour on Guangzhou’s busiest roads with highly-skilled and considerate (ho ho ho) drivers. Class had ended late and parents had wanted to talk. By the time I’d eventually reached the apartment lobby, home seemed within reach. The lift arrived.

It’s hard to spell what static might sound like. I’d like to attempt it here:

Kcccccrrccccssscccch!

Most of us have had the pleasure of hearing static at some point or another. It’s a popular form of torture. I heard static in Lift B. It was coming from the emergency contact speaker located above the elevator buttons. If ever in trouble, people can press the emergency contact button and converse with somebody at the other end. I swiped my card and the elevator doors closed.

Kccccrrrrsscchhh

There it was again.

(Voices in Chinese) There he goes, ramble ramble, foreigner, ramble (indecipherable rapid-speed Mandarin)

I could hear people, young women to be precise, speaking. I guess they were the operators who “man” the phones for the elevator company. Maybe they work for the building management department. They come from a distant, unknown land.

Operators: Ramble, ramble, look at that big nose of his, so sharp, ramble ramble

Hold on, I have a big sharp nose…

Operators: Ramble, he’s very tall, ramble, I think he’s from New Zealand, ramble, laughter

I’m relatively tall, from New Zeal….  the blighters are talking about me!  They don’t realise that they’ve left the microphone on – they’re live, on-air!

Operators: He’s got two cute daughters, kcccccrrrrccccsssssccchh, big eyes, very white skin, the older one is shy…

I turn around and face the elevator camera, located in the top left corner.

Operators: Ramble, ramble, can he hear us?  Yes, I think he can, no, surely not…

Pointing my teacherly index finger in the camera’s direction, I produce my sternest frown.

Operators: Oh my goodness he CAN hear us, heaven’s…

The doors open at my floor and I begin to exit. There’s a panicked clunk, the sound that’s made when someone switches off a mic attached to a PA system.

And THAT was the last time anything was ever heard from these voluminously nosy young women – girls really, who enjoyed chatting so very publicly about their beloved lift passengers!

The End

 

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post!

 

 

The Chinese Kangaroo

They arrived a few short years ago. Now they’re an epidemic.

I’m referring to the legion of couriers in skin-tight fluorescent-yellow tops emblazoned with a Kangaroo logo. They zoom around the city on mopeds and scooters delivering meals to office workers and those people who don’t want to battle peak-hour crowds. It’s a great success by all accounts.

The service is called Meituan Waimai (Meituan Takeaways – a translation of sorts).

images-7

Bloomberg estimated that the parent company Meituan Dianping was worth $30 billion (US) in October last year. The numbers are astounding. 256 million people used the service in 2016 with forecasts of over 400 million users this year according to Bloomberg. Over 1300 Chinese cities are in on the act with citizens near and far taking advantage of lightning-fast service from a man (almost always a man) on a bike delivering a hot meal. They also deliver groceries, massages, haircuts, and offer car washes while you’re working. Afterwards they’ll even park your car and take a photo (sent to your phone) as proof of a job well done.

It all sounds so impressive. And I guess it is. Whoever formed the company (someone called Wang Xing I’ve just discovered) will be richer than their wildest dreams. They’ve done very well in an ultra-competitive market.

But….

Some of us have to live with the Chinese kangaroo. You see, there are two sides to this fluorescent-yellow coin. You can get food delivered quickly when you don’t feel like walking the 200 metres to the actual restaurant. You don’t need to elbow your way to the counter or defend your space from queue jumpers. The meal is still warm and (usually) intact.

However the courier drivers might benefit from a bit of extra training. Road rules might be one place to start.

The Guangzhou Grade Two English Textbook offers a catchy chant in its section on transportation. Couriers (and drivers here in general) would be sage to take note:

Red at the top, you must stop,

Yellow in-between, get ready for green,

Green below, you can go!

The kangaroo drivers ignore red lights and often drive right in front of my moving car. There’s a swerve and they miss me. Everything is okay – till it’s not. Drivers also speed along footpaths and inside gated-compound paths putting everyone from toddlers to centenarians at risk. Not a day would pass without witnessing an act of  risk-taking kangaroo idiocy.

I walked past one driver yesterday who looked at me as though I was an alien from a distant planet. His eyes were big and round as he studied me intently. Not a smile to be seen. He had parked his bike near Block Six and was presumably returning from a delivery. Minutes later another kanga-courier Jack-in-the-boxed an old lady as he got out of a lift.

A good friend, Mr. Halifax, put it in perspective – who would want a job racing around the streets of a Chinese city in 40 degree heat? Buffoon drivers added to the mix and it would make for a devil of a job, an unpleasant one for sure. Maybe he was right. Perhaps I should cut these marsupial daredevils some slack.

With this newly-acquired perspective, I stood next to a Meituan courier in Lift A this morning. He stood erect, helmet glowing flourescently. “You have a tough life” I thought. “You’re merely trying to earn an honest living. I can’t begrudge you for that.”

Whereupon suddenly he turned in my direction and sneezed all over my left arm.

Back to square one.

images-8